Mentor Sara Mattila: ”Supporting Entrepreneurs from Underrepresented Backgrounds Is Essential for Breaking Socioeconomic Barriers"

Welcome to another of our interviews, where we meet the mentors of Helsinki Incubators' entrepreneurship programmes. Today, we introduce Sara Mattila, a Circular Business Designer and advocate for social impact.

Meet Sara Mattila, TREMOR mentor and versatile professional at the forefront of sustainable innovation in Helsinki's entrepreneurial scene. As a Circular Business Designer, Mattila specialises in innovating business models with sustainability and circular economy principles. Her activities in the ecosystem focus on guiding companies, non-profits, and entrepreneurs towards sustainability through impactful projects spanning various sectors. Concurrently, as a research assistant and master’s student at LUT University, Mattila contributes to academic endeavours exploring sustainability and circular business models as a teacher for LUT’s Impact Entrepreneurship course and in projects such as food waste reduction and mobility as a service. 

Beyond her professional roles, Mattila's personal passions, including aerial yoga and gardening, reflect her holistic approach to sustainability. Through her multifaceted contributions and unwavering dedication, Mattila embodies the spirit of purpose-driven entrepreneurship and academic research, driving positive change towards a more sustainable future. 

"In Finland, there's a growing awareness and commitment to sustainability, both at the individual and corporate level," the mentor observes, highlighting the country's progressive stance on environmental issues. "I feel a kind of compassion and a strong desire to contribute to a better planet," she reflects. "That's why I became interested in the circular economy; it's multidisciplinary and addresses societal impact. It transforms business models, allowing us to continue doing business without harming the planet." Through her work and advocacy, Mattila exemplifies the transformative power of purpose-driven entrepreneurship in shaping a brighter tomorrow. 

“It's About Believing in Someone's Potential, Even When They Can't See It Themselves”

Mattila's perspective on entrepreneurship reflects a journey marked by exploration, resilience, and a passion for independence. Reflecting on her early experiences, she notes the absence of entrepreneurship education and support systems, a void she feels grateful to see filled by programmes like TREMOR. "I didn't have many role models or resources for entrepreneurship when I was younger," Mattila recalls. "I started ventures like a yoga studio and my own copywriting business, driven more by passion than strategy. Now, I see the value in having both employment and entrepreneurship, staying versatile in today's landscape."  

As a mentor for YKI Pass, Mattila brings a wealth of experience and empathy to the table. "I've assisted startups with community building and general business strategies," she explains. "While these ventures may not directly focus on the circular economy, my diverse background enables me to offer valuable insights." Mattila's approach emphasises reciprocity and the importance of giving back. "I've learned that giving first can lead to unexpected rewards," she shares. "Having someone in your corner, especially during uncertain times, can be invaluable. It's about believing in someone's potential, even when they can't see it themselves." 

"Living in different countries taught me resilience and adaptability," she reflects. "It's given me a deep understanding of cultural nuances and the challenges you can face." Mattila's diverse background fuels her commitment to supporting entrepreneurs from all backgrounds. "I've been in their shoes," she says. "I understand the struggles of integration and the importance of having a supportive community. It's about creating opportunities for everyone, regardless of where they come from or what obstacles they face." 

Being a female entrepreneur, Mattila recognises the importance of networks and support systems tailored to address the unique challenges women often encounter in the business world. "As a female entrepreneur, building networks and finding mentorship is crucial," she emphasises. "It's about creating spaces where women can support and uplift each other, breaking down barriers and paving the way for future generations of entrepreneurs." 

Advocating for Inclusive Entrepreneurship

Mattila advocates for diversity and inclusivity, particularly for female entrepreneurs and members of the queer community. "If I could talk to my younger self, I would emphasise the importance of building a diverse professional portfolio," she reflects. "Developing multiple skills and income sources, including entrepreneurship, partnerships, networking, investments, and giving back through volunteering, ensures resilience and a meaningful career path despite economic fluctuations." 

Throughout her journey, the TREMOR mentor encountered challenges related to age and gender bias, especially during her time in Spain and Portugal. "I faced doubts about my age and gender, with people questioning my authority and capabilities," she recalls. "These experiences fuelled my desire to seek out diverse perspectives and communities, both locally and online." 

"Supporting entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds Is essential for breaking socioeconomic barriers" she affirms. "Studies show that diverse companies, including those with more women in leadership positions, tend to be more successful. Visibility and representation matter, not just for women but also for members of the LGBTQIA+ community, who often face invisibility in business discussions." 

Mattila advocates for the importance of intersectionality and amplifying diverse voices. "It's crucial to recognise and include voices from all backgrounds, including those who may not have the opportunity to speak for themselves," she emphasises. "By fostering inclusivity and embracing intersectionality, we create a more vibrant and equitable entrepreneurial landscape where everyone can thrive." 

"Success, for Me, Is About Happiness and Feeling Content, Knowing that I'm Living and Working in Alignment with My Values"

Entrepreneurs must stay committed to their vision, even when others doubt them. "You have to believe in your idea and be ready to explain it over and over again, even to those who don't understand," Mattila emphasises. "Success, for me, is about happiness and feeling content, knowing that I'm living and working in alignment with my values," she adds. "It's important to draw inspiration from nature, art, and personal introspection, rather than external expectations," she advises. 

Navigating entrepreneurship, especially as a woman, requires courage and a supportive network. "It's crucial to build your tribe, those who will cheer you on and accept you," the mentor notes. "Even business advisors may not always understand your innovative ideas, but having a supportive network is invaluable," she adds. 

Mattila encourages entrepreneurs to have faith in their own potential. "Entrepreneurs must believe in themselves, even when others doubt them. Self-confidence stems from trust in your skills and abilities, but it may take a while to develop that confidence as a new entrepreneur. This is where your support networks such as fellow entrepreneurs you meet in incubators are invaluable." This resilience, Mattila finalises, is essential, especially in fields like circular economy where innovative ideas may face initial scepticism. 

The University of Helsinki's entrepreneurship programmes, the Helsinki Incubators, provides support and opportunities for bold thinkers in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area interested in taking their ideas and turning them into impactful ventures. Keen to join our community of curious and motivated innovators? Read more about and apply to our thematic incubator programmes kicking off this spring: 

NEXUS — For Ideators in Deep Tech, AI & Sustainability. Apply by 14 April! 

Biosphere — For Impactful Solutions in Bio- & Circular Economy. Apply by 1 May! 

TREMOR — For Changemakers in Society, Education, Wellbeing, Communities & Law. Apply by 17 April!